Jimmy the Life Coach tells us to define our life goals and break them down to milestones. He tells us to realize our passion with a measuring cup. Visualize it Yoda -style. To jump fearlessly into the void and “be all we can be.” As a result many of us jump into a black pit that is less than 10-feet deep. The inevitable crash is sufficiently painful to make us temporarily forget how much we paid for Jimmy’s audiotapes. But if we want to jump again, we need to figure out what went wrong the first time.
True passion is as rare as truffles in the forest. Few of us stumble on truffles accidentally – without the guidance of specially trained truffle pigs. But in the $10 billion self-help industry where passion has become fashion, real truffle pigs are nearly extinct. Jimmy’s style is to guide us to identify our passion in a pressure cooker. We have to nail it, define it, visualize it, jump at it – or perish as losers.
Even if Jimmy’s intentions are innocent, his external goal oriented -system is not. His mistake is to treat symptoms; to cure disaffection by administering faux passion. But Jimmy is not a trained truffle pig; he is just a pig with a catchword. His tongue-in-cheek homework assignments can be downright destructive: “write down your passion and repeat it to yourself 100 times before going to bed.” By the time our homework assignment is due, we are ready to cheat our own destiny. We start comparison-shopping passion ideals from glossy magazines, our social circle, even our third little cousin who works (the copying machine) at a movie studio.
We will look at anybody but ourselves, and finally identify with one passion that meets the expectations… of others. In other words, we scam ourselves.
Our need for acceptance compromises our judgment about who we really are. Jimmy’s focus on external goals exacerbates this compromise. I argue that Jimmy should be hung upside down from a lamppost, and his system replaced – but with what?
During a search for adventurers for a startup venture, I came across three Irish chaps who had a rare glimpse in their eyes. Their drive was so singular that it had to be the real thing. It was was addictive. I wanted to figure out their secret sauce.
Denis, 31, the youngest in the bunch, explained to me the magic that drives him. He calls it The Silent Moment. It’s when people suddenly quiet down because survival demands an extraordinary performance. You’re suddenly cast outside your comfort zone, and your life depends on what you do next. The Silent Moment brims with purpose inside, while the outside disintegrates in chaos.
Denis has joined up with Paul, 36, and Kevin, 47, for an inhuman adventure: to cross the Northwest Passage for the first time with a row boat. The Passage is possibly the world’s severest maritime challenge. It’s 1,200 miles from the North Pole, composed of over 900 miles of arctic channels above Alaska, populated by a treacherous archipelago of icebergs. A few fortified chips have crossed the Passage over the last few centuries, and many have perished trying, while no one has even dreamt about crossing it using deltoids and biceps alone. The expedition is called The Last First.
Kevin is an architect who has been named one of Canada’s leading adventurers. His latest feat was to break the world record for the fastest unsupported trek to the South Pole.
Paul is a financial advisor who one day got the idea of crossing Australia with a bike, without any previous biking experience. And right after that, to row across the Atlantic, without any sea experience.
Despite their differences in age and profession, Denis, Paul, and Kevin are brothers. They are experts in the Silent Moment.
Until I met these Irishmen I often wondered about hazardous expeditions that had no “real purpose.” How crazy do you have to be to hang from a K2 cliff when you could be reading a book in a Jacuzzi. I was an ignoramus.
The more I listened to these guys the clearer it became that Jimmy was doomed. The recipe for the secret sauce of passion is strikingly simple. It goes like this:
Exceed yourself in a No Comfort Zone. And then do it again. And again.
We have forgotten the recipe because of modern reverence for comfort and convenience. We like to take the easy path. We deserve the easy path, because we built the easy path, the logic goes. But our neurochemical evolution screams for the No Comfort Zone, or NCZ, experience.
Think of the brain as a magic hula-hoop ring. You nudge one edge forward, and the entire ring grows in proportion. The diameter of that ring measures the real value of your life. If we don’t keep nudging the barriers, the ring shrinks. Inactivity makes it shrink. Repetition makes it shrink. Comfort and dedication to a single area of expertise makes it shrink. Predictability makes it shrink.
We don’t need to cross the Atlantic for the recipe to work. A hazardous journey is simply a tool to force us out of the rut. We can break the NCZ barriers on our keyboard, in our relationships, in our work, on our backyards. The recipe doesn’t mind if it’s trivial – because it will automatically lead to another less trivial one. It doesn’t care about your career, status, or finances. It has no preference for age, gender, or race. We just have to keep breaking familiar patterns. In a way, we need to constantly assassinate our former selves.
Where Jimmy went wrong was to define passion as something you do on the outside. But real passion is when you push yourself towards the unknown – on the inside.
In the words of a great mindnaut:
We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring
will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.